The basics of liberal vs. conservatives come down to a simple dynamic: liberals are for progress, liberty, equality, creativity, originality, love for one another; conservatives are against them all (though they'll concoct, contrive, contort, conflate and conceal to hide that very fact). Liberals liberate. Conservatives conserve. Liberals push forward. Conservatives pull backwards. So you have pro and con... for and against... progressive vs. conservative.
Conservatives are often described as "reactionary." As history goes along, conservatives are defined not so much by what they are for, but what they are against. And because things are always changing, and they don't like change, they are against a lot.
Here's how it plays out:
Favor the Rich & Corporations
Rich and powerful people have a very good reason to promote conservatism. The fundamental core of conservatism is to "conserve" (preserve, maintain) traditional customs, institutions and hierarchies. This is a perfect formula for keeping the socio-economic elite rich and powerful, or making them even more so. It's also the perfect formula to keep all other people in their proper places, which, of course, is below and subvervient to the rich and powerful. The father of modern conservatism, Edmund Burke, called this "the chain of subordination."
As a matter of "faith" these conservative elites believe that they are the superior people, and thus the just rulers of society. Conservatives have referred to this as "natural law." They maintain that if economic, social and governmental policies are skewed in their favor, then all of society will benefit. In economic parlance, this ideology is called "supply-side," though today it is more commonly known as "trickle-down" economics, or sometimes "Reaganomics" (or sometimes "voodoo economics.") This idea goes way, way, way back in history, and has been promoted by every king and pope and sultan and dictator around the world. In all of that time and practice, there is zero evidence that it actually works to benefit all the people, or even the overall economy, of any particular society. What it does do quite effectively is enrich the already rich. And so there is little wonder why conservative power-mongers so stubbornly stick to the "trickle-down" formula, and perennially sell it to a gullible public.
So, the conservative socio-economic elite are constantly pushing for low, low (or no) taxes for the rich and their corporations, and low, low (or no) regulation on business. They want to skew social systems, including government, toward their favor. They don't really care about the lower classes, including the vast middle class, which is the true engine of a modern economy. They only care about themselves. Indeed, for them to make more and more and more money, and acrue more and more power, it is in their best interest to squash the lower classes. So wealthy and powerful conservatives believe that We the People should serve the economic system, which is rigged in favor of the socio-economic elite.
Democracy presents a basic problem for these conservatives because it tends to oppose hierarchical and institutional power. The idea of inherent superiority, subservience, or "traditional" power structure runs counter to the values of democracy. So it turns out that much of conservative ideology is deeply un-American (as well as un-Christian). In a democracy, policy, customs and institutions are supposed to be skewed toward We the People, in a system where "hierarchy" and "subservience" are at least greatly diminished if never completely eliminated entirely. In a democratic society no one is considered "superior" just because they are of a particular clan or culture or possess wealth or power.
Yet at the heart of conservative thinking remains the rigid belief in hierarchy, natural rulers, and thus superiority and inferiority. The conservative socio-economic elite are determined to "conserve" this separation and inequality if at all possible.
Favor the Commoner & Common Good
Since the founding of America, liberals have sought to expand opportunities for the average person, and even the disadvantaged and downtrodden, seeking a more egalitarian society that works for everyone.
Liberals have a more fact-based, rather than faith-based, ideology. They are not so motivated by self-serving but actually negative emotions, such as prejudice, greed and fear, and thus can see the great advantages to a society of justice for all, and the "general welfare," a term used in the preamble of the Constitution.
Liberals are "utilitarian" in thinking that social, economic and governmental policy should be skewed toward the advantge of the largest number of people, not just the rich and powerful, or toward any particular clan, religion or cultural group. And liberals are far more magnanimous in being willing to share both their wealth (by not being so greedy) and their innate self worth (by not being so prejudiced) with other people.
Liberals take to heart, and mind, the ideas of liberty, equality, justice for all, and pursuit of happiness: true American values. Liberals also are a whole lot better at extending compassion for all: a true Christian value. And from this real commitment to universal values comes the continual liberal impulse to try to expand rights and steer toward a more equitable and just society. This does not mean that liberals wish to destroy rich people or capitalism, but that these people, and this economic system, must be controlled to the extent that they serve We the People, not vice-versa.
In fact, the United States has done far better economically when operating under general liberal principles than it does under conservative ideology. For example, the Great Depression and this latest Great Recession both resulted following an extended period of conservative, "trickle-down" economic policy. Taxes were slashed, regulations were relaxed or eliminated, bubbles and mini-booms resulted, the rich got richer, the Middle Class struggled, the poor got poorer, and then the economy crashed. A tragic collapse in the economy - affecting hundreds of million of Americans - has happened twice now in the past 80 years... and still the conservatives won't learn the lesson!
Conversely, the largest expansion of a Middle Class in the history of the world took place under the auspices of the New Deal programs, policy and ideology. In this way, liberals often have to actually rescue conservatives and capitalism from their own web of greed. Barack Obama may have done it again by pulling the U.S. economy back from the precipice of depression that 30 years of "Reaganomics" steered us on to.
Now the conservatives are back, selling the same old snake oil. Mitt Romney offers a tax plan that will lower the tax rates of the ultra wealth even further than the record lows they are at presently. His plan (according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center) will give the richest Americans a $250,000 tax break, while costing the average middle class family with children an extra $2,000 per year. Newt Gingrich calls for zero taxes on corporations.
The current Democratic Party (far from actually liberal) favors just slightly increasing the top tax rate so that the richest Americans are paying a fairer share of their wealth, for the good of the commoners and the commons... which is to say, America. To get back to real prosperity, it will take more than this paltry bargaining by the moderates. America will need to return to strong unions, high taxes on the rich and corporations, and stringent regulation on business and industry, most particuarly the financial sector.
Seek to Subjugate
Because conservativism is based upon the "traditional value" of strict clan hierarchy, a ranked system of order is to be "conserved." That's a system of ranking, or castes, in which certain people are inherently superior to others. Of course, professional conservatives place themselves over and above other people. This is Burke's "chain of subordination."
Historically, conservative policies seek to conserve, protect or expand hierarchies, institutions and traditions that subjugate women, indigenous people, poor people, workers, immigrants and other minorities, non-Christian religions. Slavery itself was a long-running "traditional value" of conservatism.
Importantly, the traditional hierarchy and "chain of subordination" also claims ownership of the environment. The "traditional value" of conservativism regarding the environment is that natural resources should be subjugated and controlled by the strongest. This ethos spurred hundreds of years of blatant imperialism, exploitation of developing nations and their people, and has led to devastating consequences for the biosphere.
Seek to Liberate
Liberals carried the load in the struggle to uplift and liberate women, workers, children, African Americans, Native Americans, immigrants and other minorities, including gay, lesbian and transgender individuals. Today, liberals are struggling to prevent the erosion of hard-won rights for these same classes in the face of an onslaught of conservative measures to reduce or destroy such rights and power.
Seek to Disenfranchise
Conservatives habitually seek to restrict rights, protections, including voting privileges (they originally mandated that voting was restricted to white males who owned property, and then only for congressional representatives, not for senators). Likewise, conservatives traditionally seek to depress voter turnout through such means as intimidation, poll taxes, means testing, and registration restrictions which unfairly target the poor. The lower the turnout, the fewer voters professional conservatives have to convince to vote against their own best interest, and the better the conservative's chance of winning.
Seek to Enfranchise
Liberals seek to expand voter turnout, understanding that the greater the number of voters, the greater the likelihood of the liberal candidate or issue prevailing.
Seek to Divide
Conservatives understand their policies serve only a select few, and that they cannot win unless they "divide and conquer". They do this by playing upon voters' prejudices, greed, fears and "wedge" issue emotionality, often successfully convincing voters to actually vote against their own economic or social self-interest. They also seek to divide America from the rest of the world through bully tactics and unilateral actions.
In conservative ideology, it is the individual on his (or her) own, and America separate from and above the rest of the world.
Seek to Unite
Liberal positions actually serve the welfare of far more individuals than those of conservatives, therefore their policies are more likely to unite rather than divide. Liberals also seek to join and cooperate with the rest of the world through careful, nuanced diplomacy and organizations such as the United Nations.
In liberal ideology, we are all in this together, we work together, we help each other, as Americans, and as nations of the world.
Seek to Exploit
Conservatives by nature are exploiters... of workers, of women, of minorities, of the economy (for the corporation), of the environment.
Seek to Protect
Liberals defend, preserve and protect workers, women, minorities, the economy (for the middle class), and the environment.
Conservatives seek to preserve a white-bread world that supports the primacy of patriarchal, white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant culture, and have little or no interest in understanding or respecting other cultures. Occasionally, they will allow persons or groups who are somewhat similar (i.e. Catholics, minorities) within their tent, but only if it is self-serving. This ignorance fuels suspicion and fear of "the other," and often a tendency to want to subjugate this "other", which, of course, generates resistance, animosity and distrust from "the other." This creates a negative feedback loop that is continually reinforced by the conservative, so they remain at war with the world.
Liberals, even though perhaps a part of WASP culture, value a variety of perspectives and cultural traditions, and are more open to learning about them... thereby reducing fear of the unknown. They are free to develop true and lasting trust with "the other", and forge a better future that works for all.
Now don't make the mistake of thinking that liberals endorse diversity for diversity's sake. Not all "diversity" is good, by a long shot. Diversity always arrays on a scale, or spectrum. Many scales are quantitative in orientation, where all points on the spectrum are of the same value, but differ in some measurable quantity. Skin tone is one of these scales, complexions contrasting due the amount of melanin; no skin tone is qualitatively better than the other. Age is a quantitative scale, with no age being inherently superior to any other, only more or fewer years involved. Body shape and size is a quantitative scale, none inherently superior, just different configurations. Pretty much all living things array on a quantitative scale, differing not in inherent value but simmply by various, measurable physical properties. Generally speaking, quantitative diversity spectra are safe and healthy to welcome in their entirety into culture. On the other hand, some scales of diversity exists as a qualitative, running from true to false, good to bad. The political spectrum is one of those, it runs from good (liberal) to bad (conservative). Beliefs and behaviors also align upon a qualitative scale, and often entwine both the good/bad polarities as well as the true/false axis. Belief or behavior that is false and/or bad is not the type of diversity a culture should be seeking. A healthy culture will inculcate and nurture beliefs and behavior that are true and good, while shunning and deprecating beliefs and behavior that are false and bad.
Encourage Conformity & Obedience
Conservatives seek a homogeneous populace that obeys and conforms to their conceptions of "traditional values". Anyone outside this populace, whether voluntary or involuntary, is "the other", and is subject to ridicule, scorn, ostracization, bigotry, fear, subjugation, and sometimes violence. In this regard, conservatives pay lip service to concepts such as freedom, equality and individuality, but can become very unsettled when these American rights are put to any use which varies from their sense of conformity.
Encourage Individuality & Freedom
Liberals recognize that the full exercise of freedom, individuality, creativity and "the pursuit of happiness" not only allows non-conformity but in many cases requires it.
Oppose Science & Art
Science and art often conflict with conservative concepts. When this happens conservatives react with hostility and rigidity. They will not modify their ideology to accommodate modern knowledge and changing sensibilities. Instead, they choose to defend their traditional, often mythological, mindset by denigrating and attacking science and art. Thus the conservative becomes more and more estranged from discovery, truth, creativity, and fun.
Embrace Science & Art
Liberals are far more free to learn from and enjoy science and art because being truth-based, not tradition/mythology-based, these high achievements of the human spirit are generally supportive of liberal values and concepts. Additionally, the more astute and sophisticated liberal actually revels in exposure to concepts that challenge their viewpoints and sensibilities, for this enables them to continually refine their ideology to remain in accord with the most modern scientific insights and deep truths that the creative arts often reveal.
Conservatives cling tenaciously to traditional, mythological, often archaic systems, including clan mentality that fears any threat to established status-quo. That status-quo generally plays in favor of the conservative elite, thus his need to protect it. To do so, he transposes his own fear (though often a distorted, exagerrated version) to his followers to ensure their loyalty.
A "boogie-man" or evil regime is actually an aid in securing such blind loyalty. Thus, you have Ronald Reagan ramping up his belligerent rhetoric against a fading and tired Soviet Union (the "Evil Empire"), and Cheney-Bush with their "Axis of Evil" and "terror alerts" actually encouraging a fearful populace following a domestic attack by 19 guys with box-cutters.
Conservative leaders continually endeavor to frighten their constituents because they want them to turn toward the leaders for "security". And so the followers become mere sheep, spooked into falling right in line with right-wing social, political and religious dogma. Thus, conservatives are perpetually the most afraid of all all political classes.
Liberals are much less invested in preserving the status quo, and therefore much less fearful of change to such systems. Instead, liberals can allow themselves to see change as potentially positive and hopeful, even as it overturns some long-held traditions.
As for "boogie-men," liberals have been far better at confronting and defeating them than have conservatives... and without having to terrorize their own people. "The only thing we have to fear... is fear itself," pronounced Franklin Roosevelt, rallying American resolve before taking on and defeating two of the most fearsome militaries in world history -- the Nazis and Imperial Japan.
More free and less fearful than conservatives, it turns out that liberals are the actual "free and brave" celebrated in the Star-Spangled Banner.
Because professional conservatives thrive only by keeping a significant portion of the populace in fear, they must maintain an aggressive defensive posture against all real and imagined threats in the world. Macho posturing and the set-up of "boogie-men" that serve to bind their followers to them are a staple of conservative word and deed. Such "boogie-men" require blustering, continual defense sector build-up, a never-ending escalation of military spending, and/or by actual armed confrontations.
Such a military build-up virtually demands war on a semi-regular basis to justify and perpetuate the state of fear and dependency among the populace. As always, conservative leaders don't want a fair fight, they want to rig the game in their favor. So the enemy, the "boogie-man," is usually some disadvantaged or downtrodden people like the Indians or the Mexicans or the Spaniards in Cuba or the Filipinos or the Vietnamese or the Grenadians or the Iraqis or the Afghans or "terrorists" hiding out in caves. Fueled by conservative prejudice and greed, the Americans come blustering in with all their overwhelming firepower, claiming to be spreading democracy or civilization, making a mess of things and creating generations worth of hatred, then pull out and declare a great victory.
Such war-mongering represents a great victory for the professional conservatives who 1) successfully maintain, or expand, their flock of sheeple, and 2) make millions (or billions) of dollars through their war-making adventures, and 3) clandestinely pass legislation amidst the fog of war that furthers their agenda. It's a win-win-win for them, usually not so much for the nation.
Not being nearly as fearful in general, liberals are far more likely to seek peaceful solutions to conflict than conservatives. Liberals are also not nearly so driven by prejudice and greed. So they are suspicious of the "military industrial complex" and its natural impulse toward proclaiming "enemies" and moving toward conflict and war.
Liberals are also far less easy to bamboozle when it comes to the "provocations" that purportedly require war. Thus, liberals early on saw through the Bush administration's rush to war with Iraq based on the ballyhooed "weapons of mass destruction" that conservatives were swallowing down hook, line and sinker.
However, the notion that liberals are cowardly, or "lily-livered," is sheer myth. When a real (not imagined) threat emerges, liberals are often the first to perceive the threat (as they currently do with unbridled corporate greed), and will defend America as fiercely as any conservative. And they often do so with much greater efficiency, responsibliity and humanity... it is rarely liberal soldiers or officers who are caught demeaning, torturing, or murdering innocent citizens. Meanwhile, the most important American military victories in history came under the watch of liberal Commanders-in-Chief.
The commonly used conservative perjorative of a "lily-livered liberal" is a vicious myth perpetrated by an evil mentality that deliberately seeks to divide and conquer by demeaning, even demonizing, the other, of just two, political polemics. It is a vile tactic, never even remotely returned in kind by liberals, that underscores the validity of the word "praetorian" for conservative.
To achieve their objectives, conservatives often are compelled to distort and deceive so as to hide their true intent. They have to hide their true intent because conservative ideology is so often counter to the welfare of the common good of the nation and the vast majority of its citizens. It is also quite contrary to authentic American values of liberty, equality, pursuit of happiness, and justice for all. So deception is a perennial conservative tactic.
Not having enough votes to forward their agenda by themselves, the wealthy elite and corporations successfully connive social conservatives to join with them by disguising and distorting their real purposes, and diverting attention to social "wedge issues" which often prompt the social conservatives to vote with the power elite and actually against their own best interests.
Masters of "disinformation", the actions of conservatives are often the precise opposite of their promises. This practice has long been built into conservative strategy. Thus, "The Clear Skies Initiative" was a giveaway to air polluters; "The Healthy Forests Initiative" a boon for timber companies; "The Patriot Act", actually an afront to the U.S. Constitution; the "Compassionate Conservative" and "Uniter not a Divider" candidate became one of the least compassionate and most divisive presidents; "Fair and Balanced" Fox News is, in fact, the least fair and balanced television news channel in American history. The "No Spin Zone" conservative television program spins like a whirling dervish.
Truth has a liberal bias simply because conservatives long ago abdicated truth in favor of mythology and tradition. So conservatives often find themselves in opposition to natural and scientific fact. In such situations professional conservatives deceive, distort and distract, paying for their own "experts" who happily "dissent" with established science. Meanwhile they encourage their allies in government to postpone or kill solutions to issues that the conservatives do not support.
Liberal politicians have been known to exaggerate and sometimes fail to deliver on their promises, but rarely do they need to lie about their intent. And rarer still would be the liberal who does the exact opposite of what was promised. The liberal agenda revolves around helping average people. No wedge issues are needed. No disinformation required. Liberals rely on voters understanding the nuance of issues, and perceiving the holistic truth. Sometimes that is asking too much of the significant section of the populace that are low-information voters and/or are susceptible to manipulation, fear-mongering, bigot-baiting.
Conservative ideology often clashes with actual facts, scientific discovery and natural truth, so it is in the interest of conservative if the populace remains disengaged, distracted, uneducated and plain dumb. Conservatives hope that the voter has amnesia when it comes to American history, lest they realize how wrong-headed conservatives have been for over 230 years.
Conservatives have actively worked against, indeed fought tooth and nail, every step of progress that our nation has ever made, including, very importantly, every expansion of educational opportunity. And conservative economic policy has always favored the ultra wealthy and coporations. These conservative power-mongers greatly benefitted from the general public not well knowing these very facts. They also are well aware of the inverse: the more education a person gets, the more liberal they generally become.
In election cycles they strive to divert attention from the real issues, consistently throwing up smoke-screens of "wedge issues" to further confuse and confound a huge segment of the population, as well as happily engaging in the "politics of personal destruction" style mudslinging. Anything to keep actual facts out of the mix. Mindless consumerism and entertainment such as sports, video games, most television programming and other diversions also serve the conservative cause. It is no coincidence that such programming often comes directly from huge corporations (run by conservatives) eager to perpetuate the "dumbing down" of America.
The more education an individual has, the more likely they are to tend toward liberal values. Scientists, researchers, professors, teachers, artists, writers, in general the smartest and most educated people in the country are most often liberals. And this is why conservatives are so often at odds with school and university curricula. Truly understanding the history of America means recognizing that this country was founded on liberal ideas, and that each and every stitch of progress made since 1776 sprang from a liberal font. The more information and knowledge a person has, the more they realize that issues can rarely be distilled down to black and white, but require a more nuanced approach.
In election cycles, liberals struggle to keep the focus on the primary issues that affect each and every person and family, and not get dragged into 1) tangential issues, such as abortion, gun control, gay marriage, etc. that truly affect only a comparative few, or 2) personal attacks that serve to divert attention from the real issues.
Believe that most Humans are Sinful
In keeping with their strict and punitive Old Testament orientation, conservatives hold that evil and sin are the norm within humankind, and therefore a system of order, hierarchy and severe punishment must remain in place. Naturally, the strong and exemplary people (the royals, the nobles, the wealthy and their henchmen) shall be considered the keepers of this order, and all others shall be subject to this "chain of subordination" as Edmund Burke, the father of modern conservativism called it. As a result of this worldview of humanity awash in sin and depravity, and the unworthiness of most people, conservatives live in constant fear and separateness from the bulk of humanity. If most humans are sinful, then the world is an exceedingly dangerous place. SO they must ever be on-guard to anything that might threaten their clan. This leads to their ultra-sensitive sensibilities being easily offended by non-normative behavior such as alternative art, music, literature and lifestyles. They are predisposed to consider someone guilty until proven innocent. This negative, pessimistic and fearful view of humanity explains why conservatives have little empathy for "the other" and wish no particular "social contract" with them.
Believe that most Humans are Good
Liberals, if they are Christian (which many are) place more stock in the New Testament orientation of love for one another. Those liberals who are not very religious maintain a secular humanist perpsective which accords dignity, worth and inherent goodness to most people. Liberals are far less prone to being offended by alternative lifestyles or tradition-challenging art, music and literature. They are predisposed to consider someone innocent until proven guilty. With a far more optimistic and positive view of other people, liberals are far less fearful of the world, and therefore are more prone to want to help others and not allow anyone to fall between the cracks of society.
Now that we have a good idea of the official definitions and descriptions of conservatives, let's go straight to the Top 10 Conservative Myths....